Six weeks out: Select a date, time and venue.
Tell your child it’s time to plan their birthday party. They will no doubt have tons of ideas and it is your job as the Person in Charge to effectively steer them in a direction which is both realistic and affordable. I wouldn’t call crushing dreams a perk of motherhood but — oh, ok, I totally would.
Explain that the kid in his class who had laser tag, a magician and a bouncy castle at his party was, in fact, compensating for something, perhaps the fact that his parents are dead inside and don’t really love him.
If you have venue options, list them now. In our house those venues are limited to home or the YMCA. We once looked into having a party at the science museum and discovered it would cost more than our wedding.
(That’s not saying much since we eloped and our wedding cost $300. Still, keep in mind that you are planning a children’s party, not a ceremony that legally binds you to another human being.)
If you must book a venue, you’re already about two months too late. All the dates and times you want will already be taken, and you’ll be lucky to get their 5 to 6:30 slot on a Sunday.
Party planning tip: Some parents will tell you now is the time to choose the theme for the party. This is a HUGE mistake, at least if your children are as fickle and obsessive as mine. Because I can guarantee that even if your child insists that she loves Dora the Explorer and definitely wants a Dora the Explorer party and let’s make everything Dora the Explorer, the night before the party she will loudly announce that Dora the Explorer in fact sucks balls and Elena of Avalor is the only character who brings any real joy into her life.
Four weeks out: Draw up a guest list.
Numbers will depend largely on where the party is held. My children know if they choose the YMCA, the sky’s the limit. If they want to do it at home, they are limited to eight friends. This is for the very simple reason that, in this day and age, many parents will stay at the party with their children. Some seem to think the the entire family has been invited. This means that for every child invited, you can expect between two to five guests, depending on how many siblings exist and whether grandma is visiting.
Three weeks out: Send the invitations.
Personally, I always do electronic invitations, not because I’m a huge ecowarrior but because I am lazy.
Some people will finalize the theme now so the invitations will match. Big mistake. I just go for a generic “Holy Crap! So-and-so is turning (fill in the age)!” in primary colors.
Two weeks out: Choose a cake
Really organized parents will have done this much earlier, especially if they want one of those fancy cakes that are popping up at kids’ parties these days. (Think fondant and hand painted edible flowers.)
I either buy from a grocery store bakery or make one, especially since my kids have really strange requests when it comes to cakes. This year my son wanted his to feature the star of the “My Big, Fat Zombie Goldfish” books. (Which are awesome, btw.) Try asking Costco if they make a zombie goldfish cake before being removed by security.
One week out: Finalize the guest list and shop for decorations and favors.
Hahahahaha, omg, I’m totally kidding. I mean, you can look at who has RSVPd but technically you’ll never have a real guest list until after the party. This is because some religions forbid people from RSVPing. At least, that’s the only explanation I can come up with for not clicking “Yes” or “No” on an evite.
After reminding your kid this is it, no going back on the theme, load up a basket with themed cups, plates, napkins and banners. Place a balloon order. Look at the final bill and realize this party will cost more than your wedding.
Two days out: Start getting the house ready.
Of course, this is only the case if the party is at home, which is in itself a major argument for having it elsewhere.
Have your children assist you in putting away stray toys and cleaning up their rooms, even though their rooms will be off limits during the party. Realize you have become your mother.
The night before the party: Stuff the piñata.
Smile a little to yourself because “stuffing the piñata” is one of those domestic chores that sounds vaguely dirty, like “icing the buns” and “beating the rug.”
Stuffing the piñata. Giggle.
The morning of the party: Hang the decorations.
This is when you realize that birthday banners are either way too short or two long. Too short and you can’t find a doorway to hang them from. Too long and the guests will be clothes-lined when they come through the door, even though they are only four feet tall.
Two hours before party starts: Clean in a blind panic.
As tidy as the house seemed before, you are now seeing it through the eyes of a guest.
Decide the kitchen counters need to be clear of items. Realize the books on the shelves look sloppy. Ask yourself why you never noticed what looks like a blood stain on the skirting board.
When you are finished, realize your house hasn’t been this clean since when the previous owners showed it.
At the party:
If you are at a venue, everything will go swimmingly.
If you have the party at home, you can expect the following:
All four children who RSVPd will arrive, all with their parents, some with siblings. In addition, the other four children WHO DID NOT RSVP will also show up, along with their parents and siblings, forcing you to make do as best you can, grateful you bought extras of everything.
One particularly obnoxious pint-sized sibling WHO WASN’T INVITED will sniff at your homemade cake and declare “This is way too small.” Consider whispering in his ear “Nobody likes you.” After all, there would have been PLENTY OF CAKE had this little tax write off’s parents not INVITED their extended family WITHOUT RSVPing.
When it comes time for the piñata, explain to the children there is extra candy inside the house, so there is no need to kill each other over the chance to pocket the last roll of Smarties, which suck anyway. They ignore you and proceed to reenact various scenes from “Lord of the Flies.”
Cut the cake into postage stamp sized slices so there will be enough for everyone. The kids will finish in one bite and lick their plates, looking at you plaintively as if they are in an ad for UNICEF.
Some people will advise that now is the time to open gifts but I never do this at the party because my children are terrible liars and will give their honest and ungrateful opinion on every gift, even the good ones.
One minute after the last guest’s extended family has left the party:
Vow never to have another party.